Here's a little background info on the Monsanto Protection Act:Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is planning to push an amendment to the upcoming farm bill that would repeal the secret provision known as the Monsanto Protection Act, a rider attached anonymously to a spending bill that sailed through Congress in March. An outcry greeted the news of the legislation once the public learned that it had been passed by Congress with no debate and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The provision allows Monsanto and other companies to continue selling genetically engineered seeds, even if a court has blocked them from doing so. Merkley will press for a floor vote on his repeal amendment when the farm bill is taken up next week, a Merkley aide told HuffPost.
Federal courts have recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had failed to consider the potential harm some genetically engineered crops may have, and acted too hastily in approving their sale. The industry fought back with the farm bill rider, preventing the enforcement of court rulings. - Huffington Post, 5/16/13
When the act was introduced, it was met with little vocal opposition:The Monsanto Protection Act is merely a drop in the bucket of government-embedded protections the agricultural giant already enjoys. The company has spent decades packing the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency with its own members. A new Food and Water Watch report maps out the many ways the company stacks the regulatory deck in their favor:
Monsanto’s board members have worked for the EPA, advised the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and served on President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. They presided over multiple universities in various senior positions, including South Dakota State University (with whom Monsanto has a significant research agreement), Arizona State’s Biodesign Institute and Washington University in St. Louis [...] The prevalence of Monsanto’s directors in these highly influential positions begs a closer look at how they’re able to push the pro-GE agenda within the government and influence public opinion.
The controversy behind the Monsanto Protection Act is a case study in Monsanto’s cozy relationship with regulators. In 2010, a federal judge chided the USDA for violating environmental law by rushing through approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Round Up Ready sugar beets. The judge ordered a halt on all planting of the beets until an environmental study was completed. Ignoring the court, the USDA deregulated the beets anyway, claiming that the delay would result in a sugar shortage.
That’s because Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet market, making it virtually impossible for farmers to find alternatives. Industry consolidation among a handful of corporations has driven up seed prices and stifled innovation by smaller firms. It’s no wonder, then, that a massive beet shortage would have occurred if Monsanto’s beets had been delayed for a couple years of environmental review. With the help of complacent federal regulators, Monsanto is the only game in town.
Despite having the full force of the government behind them, Monsanto’s products aren’t working. Their herbicide-resistant genes, the major selling point for their sugar beets, corn, soybean, and alfalfa crops, is actually breeding “superweeds” and possibly “superworms” that have evolved to overpower the chemicals. When these GM crops were first introduced, Monsanto argued that the gene would let farmers cut down on the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides on their crops. As it turns out, farmers have started applying even heavier doses of the chemicals to combat these new strains of pests. Though their products aren’t working, Monsanto has reaped abundant benefits from its own failure. Last week, the company announced huge profits largely due to a 37 percent increase in herbicide sales. - Think Progress, 4/10/13
Merkley is also a co-sponsor of the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act:The much-criticized "Monsanto Protection" rider originally made its way through the Senate without much notice. Out of the 100 members of the Senate, only four spoke out against the rider: Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Public outrage has escalated since the passage of the bill, spurring a worldwide protest, the March Against Monsanto, which is scheduled to take place next Saturday, May 25 in over 250 cities across the world, including here in South Florida.
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon--of course--is planning to attempt a repeal of the reviled 'Monsanto Protection Act' in the upcoming Farm Bill.
The House and the Senate Ag Committees recently passed their own versions of the bill that controls US agriculture policy and the Federal Nutrition Program--i.e. food stamps.
The bill, which is supposed to be addressed every five years, was unable to pass in last year's legislative session due to partisan bickering. Shocking.
Not surprisingly, both bills are very friendly toward corporate agriculture companies. - Broward Palm Beach New Times, 5/17/13
With Merkley standing up and taking on a leadership role to repeal the Monsanto Protection Act, it's a clear sign he's been listening to the concerns of his constituents on this issue:For months we’ve been writing about state efforts to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Now two congressmen have brought the issue to the national stage.
S.809, the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,” was introduced April 24 by Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, both Democrats. Their bill would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically altered ingredients.
The bill has nine cosponsors in the Senate (including one Republican and one independent) and 22 in the House.
“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Boxer said. “This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they buy.”“When American families purchase food, they deserve to know if that food was genetically engineered in a laboratory,” DeFazio added. “This legislation is supported by consumer’s rights advocates, family farms, environmental organizations, and businesses, and it allows consumers to make an informed choice.”
Co-sponsors of the Senate bill include: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM. Co-sponsors of the House bill include Jared Polis (D-CO), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Peter Welch (D-VT), James Moran (D-VA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Don Young (R-AK), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), George Miller (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Ann Kuster. - Food Processing, 5/10/13
Again, very glad to see Merkley stand up and take action on this issue.There’s a “Monsanto protection act” in the Oregon Legislature, and opponents say that due to its vague language its repercussions could affect not only seed growers but also city and county governments managing vegetation. SB 633 passed out of the Oregon Senate May 1 on a 17-12 vote. Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Chris Edwards voted against it.
SB 633 appears to be in response to local efforts to protect farmers and consumers from genetically modified (GM) foods. Kai Huschke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) says it’s “quite likely that the move by the agribusiness boys was to sharpen up the preemptive law in response to the ballot qualification in Jackson County and the rights-based effort in Benton. It’s usually what they do.”
Efforts in Jackson County have led to a measure on the ballot for May 2014 that will let voters decide if they want to ban GM crops in the county, and people in Benton County have been working on a community rights initiative to protect the heritage and vegetable seed industry there. GMO Free Oregon has discussed putting forth a similar measure in Lane County. CELDF gives advice and training on these efforts.
Melissa Wischerath and Mary Beth Williams of the newly formed, Eugene-based Center for Sustainability Law are concerned about SB 633. Wischerath says the bill is based on corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) proposed legislation from 2007. - Eugene Weekly, 5/16/13
Since I haven't written about Merkley in a while, let me give you a run down of what else he's been working on. First, he's looking out for working mothers:
He's also been fighting for emergency relief funding to combat Oregon's drought problem:Today, the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon (BCO), the Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI) and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) join Senators Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) to introduce legislation to protect and expand working moms’ right to express milk for their infants while at work.
All major health authorities recommend that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue breastfeeding for at least the first year of a child’s life. Encouraging breastfeeding for working mothers supports increased rates of breastfeeding and alleviates the burden of acute and chronic diseases.
In Oregon, BCO, OPHI and Nursing Mothers Counsel (NMC) have played leading roles in promoting breastfeeding as crucial to the health of infants and mothers, including supporting the passage and implementation of Oregon’s groundbreaking Workplace Lactation Law. Oregon’s law served as the model for the current national workplace lactation legislation championed by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley as part of the Affordable Care Act. BCO worked closely with the Portland Police Bureau to develop their milk expression policy that supports women officers’ transition back to work, which is highlighted at today’s press event.
“By just making a few changes, businesses and employers can make a huge difference in the lives of working moms and their babies. Breastfeeding is good for babies, it’s good for moms, and it’s good for business. This legislation expands the 2010 back to work breastfeeding provisions to all mothers, both wage earning and salaried,” said Merkley. Currently 12 million salaried women who work in traditional office environments are not covered under the federal law. - The Lund Report, 5/13/13
And looking out for Oregon's ports:With drought conditions worsening in a number of Oregon counties, Sen. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are seeking federal assistance for Oregon cattle ranchers.
In a letter sent this week, the Senators asked the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to extend emergency grazing opportunities on federal lands. In the Klamath Basin, the first three months of this year were second driest on record. And already the USDA has designated Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties as drought disaster counties.
Lois Loop is a farm program specialist with the USDA's Farm Service Agency.
She says one thing that could make the lack of forage even worse would be large fires similar to those that burned last summer. - OPB, 5/10/13
Here's a little more info on Merkley's amendment:"This is very good news," said Depoe Bay Mayor A.J. Mattila, when hearing that the U.S. Senate has approved funding that could include a dredging operation at Depoe Bay harbor.
"I am happy that this is moving forward," said Mattila. "We hope that this project can start as soon as possible because the bigger boats that use the harbor can't even get to the fuel dock at low tide and even the smaller boats are having trouble and stirring up the mud."
Mattile said the dredging is critical to Depoe Bay's economic future.
"But it is also hugely important because this is a harbor of refugee so if the ocean is acting up, our harbor gives vessels a place to come into for safety," said Mattila.
An amendment sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is part of a water resources bill passed by the United States Senate today designed to increase chances that much needed maintenance and dredging money gets to small ports, including those on the Oregon Coast.
The amendment directs the Army Corps of Engineers to use money left over from maintenance of high-use, deep-draft ports and the Great Lakes Navigation System for moderate- and low-use port projects that have not been maintained in the preceding six years.
“Ports up and down the Oregon Coast, both big and small, are the engines that drive the economic health of coastal communities,” Wyden said. “I want to ensure that Oregon’s smaller ports are taken care of and get the much-needed maintenance and dredging that is critical to their community’s survival.”
The amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), was included in the Water Resources Development Act that now goes to the House. The Oregon ports potentially benefiting from the Wyden amendment include: Brookings Harbor, Gold Beach, Port Orford, Bandon, Coos Bay and Charleston Boat Harbor, Umpqua, Siuslaw, Toledo, Newport, Depoe Bay and Garibaldi. - The News Guard, 5/15/13
He's also kept on fighting to get ENDA approved and with the recent news about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. NV) revealing that his niece is a lesbian, it looks like ENDA might be getting a vote soon:As the U.S. Senate voted on components of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Senate passage of an amendment he offered with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that would ensure that American-made iron, steel, and manufactured goods are used in federally-funded water infrastructure projects whenever they are available and competitively priced. The amendment passed by a vote of 60 in favor, 36 against. The entire bill, with Brown’s amendment, passed by a vote of 83-14 and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“This is great news for Ohio workers and manufacturers like U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal, Nucor, Cliffs Natural Resources, and McWane. When we invest in American infrastructure, we should also invest in American manufacturing,” Brown said. “We know how to make things in this country and should use American tax payer dollars to bolster domestic manufacturing as much as possible.”
For many years, Buy America provisions have established the basic principle that when we spend federal taxpayer dollars on public infrastructure projects, American businesses and workers should do the work. Backed by an open, competitive market-driven process, Buy America rules have provided the foundation for millions of miles of roads, bridges, light rail, and subways, and millions of good-paying jobs. The amendment builds upon an amendment Brown successfully offered to the 2012 Transportation Authorization bill that extends Buy America standards for roads, bridges, and rail. The amendment passed today will cover federally financed water infrastructure projects that will be financed through the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA) program in WRDA. - Ohio RealEstateRama, 5/16/13
And this is an old story but in case you didn't know, now you know:"My niece is a lesbian," Reid told the Huffington Post on Wednesday. "She's a school teacher. Her employment shouldn't be affected with that. We should have a law that says that, not just the good graces of wherever you work."
Reid's revelation is just the latest example of a member of Congress explaining a personal reason behind a political stance. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced in March that he was changing his position to support marriage for same-sex couples because his son is gay.
Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, has long been supportive of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation. The measure has gone nowhere in Congress since it was first introduced, but it came within one vote of passing in 1996.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who is sponsoring the latest version of the non-discrimination bill in the Senate, is optimistic that ENDA could have some momentum this year because of changing attitudes about gay rights, especially same-sex marriage. More than 85% of Fortune 500 companies have policies in place than ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. - USA Today, 5/16/13
And Merkley recently met with the Dalai Lama:Supporters of industrial hemp gained a powerful ally in Washington several weeks ago when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined fellow Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as a co-sponsor of S.359, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013. The House companion, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), has 28 co-sponsors. The bills would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp, the domestic production of which has been illegal since 1970.
Though manufacturing hemp is currently just as illegal as growing smokable pot, 10 states already have frameworks in place for industrial hemp production. The problem is that the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies all forms of hemp as a controlled substance, despite the fact that industrial hemp generally contains less than 0.3 percent THC, or anywhere between 1/6 to 1/66 the amount you'll find in marijuana. If you tried smoking hemp, you'd exhaust yourself before you got high.
Federal regulations do not differentiate between marijuana and its non-psychoactive cousin, which is used in the production of many useful items, including clothing, rope, biofuel, construction materials, and pulp for paper products. According to David West of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, more hemp products are exported to the United States from places like China and Canada than any other nation on earth. - Reason, 3/4/13
Now I don't want to raise your hopes too high but it looks like filibuster reform might be getting a second look:The Dalai Lama and other panelists touched on human consumption, the economy, political action and individual behavior during a sold-out Environmental Summit this morning at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The visiting spiritual leader began by recognizing the Buddhist position on impermanence.
"Things are always changing," the Dalai Lama told an audience of about 10,000 people. "The planet's own position is changing. The whole universe, the Milky Way is moving, according to scientists." If a collision is in the offing, he joked, it's a few centuries away. If and when it happens, he joked, "then no need (for) any concern."
But until then, he said, "We have responsibility. Our own behavior makes a difference. If some destruction happens, its our own fault."
He referred to his own escape from Tibet to India several decades ago.
"But now the whole world had no other place to escape," he said. The idea that human beings could flee to the moon is "poetic," he said, but not practical. "We go there, begin to settle down. It's impossible. No hope. This is our home. We have to take care of it."
David Miller, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud," moderated the panel, which also included Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, scientist and television host David Suzuki and Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council.
United States Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced the Dalai Lama. After brief remarks, Miller asked Suzuki how he saw the environmental future.
"We have passed too many tipping points to go back," Suzuki said. The challenge is that human beings believe they "are in control."
"For 99 percent of our existence we realized we were deeply embedded and utterly dependent on nature," he said. That perception changed over time as humans left hunting, gathering and farming behind and moved to the cities, where their jobs became central concerns. "The economy became our highest priority." - The Oregonian, 5/11/13
We shall see. If you'd like to donate to Merkley's re-election campaign, you can do so here:The escalating Senate fight over President Obama’s cabinet appointments moved closer to a showdown on Thursday as two nominees headed to their confirmation votes without a single Republican’s support.
Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Thomas E. Perez, the nominee to be secretary of labor, were approved in committee with only Democratic votes. Their nominations now go before the full Senate, where they face likely Republican filibusters.
The threat of further Republican attempts to thwart the president’s ability to assemble his second-term cabinet has increased the likelihood of a fight over the Senate’s rules, which allow the minority party to insist on a 60-vote threshold for almost every Senate action.“The showdown is coming,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, who has been working with Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico on efforts to overhaul filibuster rules. “And the leadership is very engaged in preparing how to deal with this and how to change this so advise and consent does not become an instrument of destruction.”
Tensions are likely to flare up again next week when the Senate votes on the president’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, whose selection Republicans have vowed to block because they believe the bureau has too much authority.
To implement a rule change with a simple majority, Democrats like Mr. Merkley and Mr. Reid would have to overcome deep skepticism from many within their own ranks, particularly more senior senators who worry about the precedent such a move would set.
“You think you’ve got gridlock now?” said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan. “You think you’ve got problems now? You will have a huge, huge outpouring of real anger.”
“That means the next Senate,” he added, “if the Republicans control it, you can expect them by majority vote to put through any rules change they want.”
But the level of frustration among Democrats now has pushed many of them, including Mr. Reid, to believe that the situation has deteriorated so badly that it can be fixed only by doing something they once would have never considered. - New York Times, 5/16/13